Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Watching TV: The Super Bowl of Multitasking?

Millions of eyes will be glued to the Super Bowl his Sunday.  Well….sort of. While watching TV is still a popular pasttime for most people, the experience is changing.

The days of the family gathering around the television with all eyes glued on Walter Cronkite delivering the news or Ozzie and Harriett entertaining us are gone – long gone.  While 74% of U.S. consumers still watch TV primarily on their TV sets, Americans are plugged in and multitasking. 

A new survey from Deloitte found that a full 42% of American consumers surf the Internet while watching the television, 29% talk on their phones while the TV is on and 26% of consumers are texting or sending IMs. And let’s not forget about checking on my friend’s status on Facebook or making phone calls.

This multitasking phenomenon has been propelled by the explosion of mobile technology.  Sixty-eight percent of participants in the survey own a laptop or a netbook and another 41% have Internet-enabled phones. Moreover, one-third of American households now own a smartphone, up from 22% in 2007.  In addition, 85% own a desktop computer, and like myself, many have a TV monitor sitting beside one or more computer monitors.

While the results are not surprising, they confirm that businesses that are hanging onto traditional means of advertising and marketing are quickly on the road to extinction. Not only is television viewership declining, but print newspapers are shrinking faster than a snowball on a hot summer day. 

There is some good news for print media fans.  Deloitte suggests that print magazines may be “surviving the digital tsunami.” Two-thirds of U.S. consumers have read a print copy of a magazine in the past six months, higher than newspaper and other forms of print media. Interestingly, 87% of U.S. consumers say that they prefer the print copy of magazines over the digital version. In fact, 55% of U.S. households still subscribe to at least one print magazine, up by 1% from 2009.

All this technology and our urge to do more in less time is forcing businesses to make some hard choices. What are you doing differently in 2011 to make sure you are listening, observing, and responding to your customers and employees?

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Holy Toledo, Batman: Elderly Life Begins At 50!

Last night I was inducted into the Hall of Elderly Citizens. At least that’s how I felt.

It happened while I was the guest lecturer at a business consulting class at Salisbury University. The instructor invites business people to share their real-life experiences about marketing, hiring consultants, economic trends and more. This is the fourth semester I’ve spoken to the class.

At last night’s class I spoke about how social media was really a revolution, changing the way business was done much like what happened during the Industrial Revolution more than a century ago. For these students, I truly believe the upheaval in the labor markets and economy will create new opportunities for those prepared and motivated to take advantage.

I had their attention for the moment and believed I had bridged a generation gap of nearly 40 years effortlessly. But I quickly learned that for some of these young adults, anyone over 50 is … not just old but elderly. Yes, 50 years old is elderly in the minds of our youth. For anyone who believes that 50 is the 30 or 60 is the 40 here’s a reality check.  To a 22 year old, 50 is still old!

The scene unfolded like this. One team of students is working on a marketing project to help a local community attract the “elderly.” More specifically the group asked me “if Facebook is a good option for the 50 and older demographic?” That’s when I polled the rest of the class. One student responded “no, I don’t think the elderly use Facebook.” Another agreed.

Elderly = 50 years and older.  Holy Toledo, Batman.  I must have missed that memo…or maybe I just don’t remember!

I suggested to the student team that most Baby Boomers would not likely be attracted to a marketing campaign that referred to them as elderly or senior citizens. Active adults, maybe. Elderly? No chance.

The question ignited an interesting discussion about “older people” using Facebook.  One student “just couldn’t imagine his Dad being on Facebook.”Another replied that her grandmother was on Facebook every day. Of course, I quickly realized that I could be as old as or older than her grandmother. Ouch!

Thankfully, several other students chimed in and validated my point that not all 50 year olds are over the hill and living the life of a fuddy-duddy. The truth is that the fastest growing segment of Facebook active subscribers are 55 and older and that Facebook could well be an important marketing strategy to attract the aging Baby Boomers.

My day of confronting generation gaps was not over. I left the class to meet with three Perdue School of Business students who started up a new online business.  The purpose?  They wanted help in developing an Internet marketing campaign and revenue model for their new venture.  Generation gap?  Hardly. This was a business opportunity and consulting meeting. Age never entered the conversation.

And moments after that meeting ended, I spoke with my 87 year old mother who was depressed because her Internet connection was down for almost a week. And when she finally resorted to walking to the library because “she just couldn’t stand [being unplugged from the Internet] anymore,” she found nearly 400 emails waiting for her. Even for the “elderly,” staying connected and doing business via the Internet is part of their daily lives.

For me, yesterday was the epitome and paradox of contrasting attitudes toward different generations. The day’s events offered an important lesson for all of us – do not pass judgment blindly. Most fifty year olds are not elderly and Gen Ys are not slackers, sloppy, and self-centered.  At least for a few minutes yesterday I was able to demonstrate how technology and especially social media can effectively disrupt generational stereotypes and bridge cohorts separated by over 65 years.

Fortunately for many, the gap is invisible.  For others, different generations live worlds apart. Hopefully, technology can bridge the gap and open communication.

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81 Percent Of Kids Have “Digital Footprint”; Boomers Delay Retirement

This Week’s Top Stories from the Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization Grapevine

Geeks

Working in a call center does not seem to be the Millennial’s generation cup of tea. According to a survey released by Sodexo Motivation Solutions, only 5 percent of the respondents regard working in a call center as exciting. More troubling for call center management is that only 55 percent consider call center work negatively. And the nail in the coffin is that one in three of those surveyed who are currently seeking work would rather claim unemployment benefits than work in a call center.

Geezers

Some 40 percent of U.S. workers say they’re going to have to delay retirement because they can’t afford to stop working, according to a survey released this week by consultants Towers Watson. The biggest reasons cited were the losses suffered in their retirement savings and the need to maintain company-sponsored health care coverage.

Googlization

They may not know how to use a computer yet, but a recent poll revealed that some children as young as six months already have an online presence, including their own email address. Antivirus maker AVG conducted a poll of mothers with children under two years old to see when they began uploading pictures of their kids to the web. According to the survey, the average age children acquire an online presence is six months, with more than 70 percent of mothers posting baby and toddler pictures online and sharing them through social networking sites. By the time they are two, 81 percent of kids have what AVG CEO J.R. Smith called a “digital footprint.” Other findings include:

  • 33 percent of children have had pictures posted online from birth.
  • 23 percent of parents uploaded their child’s pre-birth scan to the Internet.
  • 7 percent of babies even have an email address set up by their parents at birth.
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Older Adults Join Facebook Frenzy

The hottest growth segment on Facebook and other online social networking sites is guys like Richard and Ray and their lady friends.  No, Richard and Ray aren’t two college kids enjoying the party life.

Richard and Ray are what most people might call “geezers.”  In fact, these two gentlemen are members of a special group of the elderly population.  They belong to the “oldest old” group – Americans who are at least 85 years of age.

Seniors-using-computer_000009129801

And that’s what makes this story so interesting. Richard Bosack, age 89, joined Facebook recently, after his buddy Ray Urbans, age 96, recommended the ubiquitous social networking site a few days earlier. (And I’m still trying to get quite a few 50- and 60-something neighbors to check their emails regularly!)

The two older men might be viewed as exceptions in a space that is considered the proprietary realm of teens, young adults, and moms.  But Grandma and Grandpa are joining Facebook and other social networking sites in record numbers.  As the Pew Research Center recently described this trend, Grampy and Grammy are getting down with “the Face.”

Social networking use among Internet users 65 and older grew by a staggering 100 percent in the last year, a recent Pew Research Center survey reports. In 2009, social networking use by folks 65 and older stood at 13 percent. This year, 26 percent of people in that age group who are using the Internet also are delving into Facebook and other social networking sites. Social networking use among internet users ages 50 and older nearly doubled—from 22% in April 2009 to 42% in May 2010.And it’s not only social networking sites that are attracting seniors. Looking at adults ages 65 and older who have high-speed internet connections at home, 72% say they use the internet on a typical day. That compares with 77% of broadband users ages 50-64, 84% of those ages 30-49 and 86% of those ages 18-29.

AARP says the top four online activities for people over 60 are Google, Facebook, Yahoo and YouTube.

Tammy Gordon, AARP’s senior adviser for social communications, says a quarter of the organization’s members are using Facebook, and the number is rising quickly. Nearly 19 million people ages 55 and over used Facebook in July, up from about 9 million one year ago, according to comScore.

“Young adults continue to be the heaviest users of social media, but their growth pales in comparison with recent gains made by older users,” explains Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist and author of the report.

What does the 60 and older crowd find so appealing in social networking?

1. Older Social networking users are much more likely to reconnect with people from their past, and these renewed connections can provide a powerful support network when people near retirement or embark on a new career.

2. The appeal of social networking for older Americans may also be related to managing health issues. Older adults are more likely to be living with a chronic disease , and those living with these diseases are more likely to reach out for support online. Having a chronic disease significantly increases an internet user’s likelihood to say they work on a blog or contribute to an online discussion, a listserv, or other forum that helps people with personal issues or health problems.
3. Most older adults have been introduced to social networking by their children. Social media bridges generational gaps. While the results can sometimes be messy, these social spaces pool together users from very different parts of people’s lives and provide the opportunity to share skills across generational divides. This has the potential for strengthening family ties and work relationship across generations.

One idea circulating around is to support a “National Digital Literacy Corps” that trains volunteers to teach digital skills to those who are least connected in their communities—including pairing tech-savvy digital natives with seniors. With 86% of internet users ages 18-29 using social networking sites and 60% doing so on a typical day, it is not hard to imagine that some of these young mentors would be eager to share their skills in profile management with older users.

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Isn’t text messaging today just Morse Code v2.0?

When Samuel Morse sent the first electronic message from the U.S. Capitol to his partner in Baltimore nearly 170 years ago, he typed “What hath God wrought?”  I believe nearly every parent of a teenager today might be muttering the same words.

We are in the midst of four distinct generations of Americans trying to communicate with one another using different media.  Communication gaps between parents and kids or managers and employees are nothing new. It’s been the subject of thousands of books.  Experts have made millions and millions of dollars prescribing remedies to bridge the gaps and mend fences. But they’ve seen nothing like the gaps occurring today between the Veterans (born before 1946), Baby Boomers (born 1946-64), Generation X (1965-79), and Millennials (born 1980-1999)… or have they?  Has anything really changed over the past 170 years?

Take the phone for example: According to Nielsen Mobile, in the first quarter of 2009, the average U.S. teen made and received an average of 191 phone calls and sent or received 2,899 text messages per month. By the third quarter, the number of texts had jumped to a whopping 3,146 messages per month, which equals more than 10 texts per every waking non-school hour.  Just for the sake of comparison, at the beginning of 2007, those numbers were 255 phone calls and 435 text messages.

It’s hard to believe that little handheld device we used to call a phone is quickly joining the transitor radio and 8-track cassette in flea markets and garage sales.  Don’t believe me? Just try calling anyone born during the 90s or later.  Good luck on getting a real person on the other end to answer it. Voice mail? Good luck on getting a listen before it’s deleted. Email? You’ve got to be kidding. That’s old school, baby.

That makes the term “phone” almost obsolete. Using that mobile device to call someone is just a vestige of old technology. The older Millennials, also referred to as the iGeneration because these young people have been raised on the iPod and the Wii, rarely if ever use their “phone” to call someone. They communicate almost exclusively by instant messaging and Facebook. (I intentionally excluded Twitter because contrary to popular belief, young people “don’t get Twitter.”)

This explosion of text messages, tweets, and updates of non-verbal communication is stunning.  It has many peoples’ shorts tied up in a bunch. “How will kids today ever learn how to communicate?,” is often the cry heard from multi-generational training audiences.  And the spelling and grammar? “Well…it’s horrific,” parents and teachers proclaim. But historians might see this revolution in communication as just another lesson in history repeating itself. 

Isn’t instant messaging today just Morse Code v2.0?  What’s changed since Morse tapped in that first message? Upon brief reflection, it seems eerily familiar. One person taps a bunch of keys on an electronic device which transmits a message to another party. Only this time the code, all those texting abbreviations that drive grammar and spelling cops crazy, is translated on the spot by the recipient. 

Ironically even Morse’s first message reverberates loudly with today’s texting dissidents — “What hath God wrought?”  It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Sizemore sizes up ‘Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization’ in HS Dent Forecast

In one of those “this made by day” moments, a friend of mine forwarded a review of my book Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization.  The review was written by Charles Sizemore at HS Dent and published in the March 2010 edition of the HS Dent Forecast. Not only was I pleased – no, ecstatic – over the author’s insight and comments, it was especially rewarding because it was completely unsolicited and unanticipated.

The book review in its entirety is posted below.

“What is a generation?” asks Ira Wolfe in his new book Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization. “A generation is a group of people who are programmed by events they share in history while growing up… a common set of memories, expectations, and values based on headlines and heroes, music and mood, parenting style, and education systems.”

I would agree with this definition, and would add that it ties in with the concept of generation gap. Parents (and sometimes even older siblings) often do not “get” their kids. They don’t understand their vocabulary. They don’t understand what motivates them. And they absolutely, for the life of them, cannot understand why a pieced eyebrow is cool. (Who am I to criticize…in my childhood, coolness was defined by acid-washed jeans that were tightly rolled around the ankles and permed hair and makeup on male rock stars. Go figure.)

Mr. Wolfe’s book is an interesting study on the relationships between the generations in the workplace. It’s very similar in substance to the generational work done by William Strauss and Neil Howe (Generations, The 4th Turning, Millennials Rising), but it’s much less academic and, frankly, quite a bit easier to digest. Corporate executives who find themselves managing a multigenerational workforce should find the book quite valuable, as should anyone struggling to understand the generation gap in their own home, for that matter.

Wolfe speaks of the generations as if they were single members of a large family. At this stage in their careers, the Baby Boomer managers are “parents,” while the Echo Boomer employees are “kids.” Generation X, stuck in the middle as always, is analogous to an unloved older stepchild, cut off from the nurturing love fest between the Boomers and Echo Boomers.

Of Generation X, Wolfe writes “Coming of age in the shadow of the Baby Boomers virtually ensured that this generation would be overlooked and ignored; like Great Britain’s Prince Charles, they are the workplace ‘heirs apparent,’ waiting endlessly and impatiently to assume leadership.”

And like the unfortunate Prince Charles, their waiting has no end in sight. Gen X is hitting a “gray ceiling,” as the incumbent Boomers refuse to retire and make room at the top. But while Gen X waits for its chance to take the reins, Gen Y is slowly coming up behind them. Given the symbiotic relationship between the Boomers and their “Mini Me,” the Echo Boomers, Gen X is right to worry about being leapfrogged.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Gen X is a very entrepreneurial generation; with the Baby Boomer generation acting as an 80-million-person roadblock to their career advancement, it is understandable that Gen Xers believe that their best chance to excel is through starting their own businesses. Of course, Gen X also watched their parents and older brothers suffer through the layoffs and restructurings of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Seeing quality professionals lose their jobs through no fault of their own made Generation X grow up a little cynical and mistrusting of large companies.

Wolfe also has a secondary theory for Generation X’s independence and somewhat prickly demeanor. While the Echo Boomers were the “trophy kids” who were coddled from birth by their well-intentioned soccer moms who slathered them in antibacterial hand wash every time they left the house, Gen X was the “latch-key kid” generation. They had to fend for themselves at a young age. They also weren’t required by law to wear a helmet and knee pads every time they rode their bike to school, nor were they required to sit in a car kiddy seat until puberty. In short, they weren’t smothered by their mothers (or by the “nanny state”), and they were allowed to be kids — little Huck Finns and Tom Sawyers who got into a lot of trouble but ended up stronger for it.

Don’t underestimate this personality characteristic; you don’t realize how valuable it is until you see the alternative: the neediness of the Echo Boomers (also called the “Millennials” and “Gen Y”). In smothering their children with things like “My kid is an honors student” bumper stickers, the Baby Boomers have created a codependent monster in the Echo Boomers they raised. Echo Boomers require constant attention and affirmation in the workforce. They’re emotional and oversensitive. And they don’t understand why it’s not ok to wear an eyebrow piercing into a place of business if you want to be taken seriously or that it’s rude to have your face buried in a text message when someone is talking to you. (This is my personal pet peeve. Though she is now a married professional in her mid-20s and generally has good manners, my Echo Boomer kid sister has the annoying habit of doing the “Blackberry prayer” when I’m trying to talk to her. Her husband does it too. It’s maddening.)

Wolfe does an excellent job of describing the frustrations felt by managers today:

At school, teachers accentuate the positive. Kids no longer fear the bad report card — teachers do. This generation was treated so delicately that many schoolteachers stopped grading papers and tests in harsh-looking red ink to avoid bruising the child’s precious self-esteem. Managers in turn must now tread lightly when making even the most benign critique…

How did these kids get this way? For many Millennials, few “accomplishments” didn’t rate some type of acknowledgement. In games, it was common for everyone to receive a trophy — win or lose — thus the name “trophy kids…” The lesson shifted from “second place is the first place for losers” to “everyone who plays is a winner.”

This generational tension is a bit ironic. While many managers and most of the media targets the kids, the blame might fall squarely on the very people doing the loudest complaining — doting parents, teachers and coaches. After all, the grumbling Baby Boomer managers are the same indulgent parents who raised the millennial generation after starting families late in life or vowing not to make the same mistake twice with children from second and third marriages.

Wolfe, a graying Baby Boomer, is certainly no crotchety old man wagging his finger at “kids these days.” Quite to the contrary. (If anything, it is me, your younger Gen X writer who fits that description.) Wolfe sees a lot of untapped potential in this young generation. What I might consider a short attention span, an inability to focus, and insufficient attention to detail, Wolfe calls “hyperalertness,” defined here as an “advanced form of mental flexibility.” I would consider instant messaging three friends while simultaneously uploading photos to Facebook, blogging about rock bands, playing Second Life, and listening to an iPod to be a colossal waste of time of absolutely no economic value. I certainly wouldn’t call it “multitasking.” But I guess that makes me old school.

At any rate, Mr. Wolfe’s objective is not to pass judgment. His objective is to help managers better understand those under their control. And on this front, Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization is a useful too. I’d recommend this book to anyone in a position of authority over a multigenerational workforce.

Charles Sizemore, CFA

This book review was originally published in the March 2010 edition of the HS Dent Forecast.

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